Beating playoff teams is nice, but Detroit Tigers send statement: ‘We haven’t arrived yet’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers continue to tear through teams destined for the postseason.

Beating baseball’s highest tier has been on full display in September. Some believed the Tigers would crash, considering what appeared to be an unbearable schedule: Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Rays (seven times), Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago White Sox (six times), Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins.

In AJ Hinch’s first year as manager, the Tigers (74-78) continue to showcase their grit, with 10 games remaining, having gone 12-7 in September.

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They’re 65-54 since May 8 and 34-27 since the All-Star break. Dating to June 14, the Tigers are 48-39, whereas the American League Central-leading White Sox are 44-42. Had it not been for the miserable 9-24 start, the Tigers would be in the playoff conversation this year

“On the front end, we’re trying to develop a mentality of just play today’s game and then see how it goes,” Hinch said. “Everyone wonders how you do it, or what do you do? I think you establish an identity of showing up ready to play every day. That’s required to play here. It’s expected, and the players have responded.

“There’s no magic potion. There’s no silly method that we’re trying to accomplish. We don’t want to get beat, so we show up ready to play. I’m proud of it, but I don’t necessarily know how to describe it.”

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But you can’t erase April from the record books.

The Tigers will not have a spot in the postseason, no matter how many playoff teams they steamroll down the stretch. At some point soon, possibly next year, the Tigers could reach the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“I try not to get caught up in the roller coaster ride, but I have immense pride for what we’re doing,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t mean I’m satisfied, just because of the way we’re built as players, coaches and managers. You want to be in the dance at the end. The work we’re doing, the process that we have, the player buy-in, what the players doing on the field, I have great pride in. That comes with the caveat of like, it’s a good foundation. We’re not established. We haven’t arrived yet. This is a team that needs to stay hungry and build off what we’re doing and not reflect too far back on how we got here.”

Placed third in the AL Central, the Tigers secured eight wins in their last 11 games against the first-place Rays (4-3), first-place Brewers (2-0) and first-place White Sox (2-0).

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“It’s a good sign,” outfielder Daz Cameron, a 24-year-old rookie, said. “It’s a good sign that we’re able to beat those guys that are in first place. It’s a good look for us out there. We’ve put in the work to show it, and we’re executing the things that we’ve been working on before the game and up to it with our routines and making sure we practice the situational parts of the game. When they came up in the game, we’re ready to execute them.”

The Tigers beat the Rays in the series at Comerica Park, swept the Brewers in two games and split four games in a second date with Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field. They won their first two games over the White Sox on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday’s series finale got postponed to Monday, Sept. 27, because of rain.

“When I was with the Oakland A’s in ’17, at the end of the year, we lost 87 games,” catcher Dustin Garneau, a seven-year MLB veteran, said. “I went into the offseason and I told my wife that they were going to be a playoff team in ’18. I’m not a crystal ball or anything, but they played in the (AL) Wild Card in ’18.

“The way this team has changed, the clubhouse has changed, (the Tigers are) definitely going in the right direction to be a contender next year, in my opinion.”

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The Tigers own a 38-33 record against teams above .500, better than the White Sox (25-29), Cleveland (26-48), Royals (35-44) and Twins (27-47). They recorded winning months in May (14-13), June (14-13) and July (14-12) before going 12-14 in August.

Commanding a 12-7 record in September gives the Tigers a strong chance to finish with four winning months across the six-month, 162-game season. But the end goal — reaching the playoffs — will have to wait.

“The culture and chemistry inside is pretty fun,” Hinch said. “I’m sure winning helps a little bit of that, but we’re not a winning club yet. We’ve won games and we’ve had winning months, and I’m happy with that, and I think it’s going to grow and get better.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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